A few years ago, one could have suspected me of gaining a commission from every Nilüfer Yanya song streamed or ticket sold. My office slack, WhatsApp, even tinder messages were laced with reasons to listen to her music. Why should you continue reading my thoughts on her sophomore album ‘PAINLESS’? For I am the definition of glass half empty, I don’t approach new music by a favourite artist with excitement but rather caution, could this be where the romance ends, so come along and let’s explore why this record induced a tear or two.
The album was recorded with Miss Universe collaborator and producer Willma Archer, Andrew Sarlo (DEEK Recordings founder), and musician Jazzi Bobbi between a studio in Stoke Newington and Riverfish Music in Penzance – owned by her uncle Joe Dworniak (a former bassist in funk band I Level). 2019’s critically acclaimed ‘Miss Universe’ hosted twelve ear-worms tied together with audio snippets/announcements, making it a concept piece about the eerie future for a dystopian world. ‘PAINLESS’ is a more precise work as it places the artist at the centre- exposing personal anxieties heartaches with raw vulnerability.
Musically it hosts many different styles; Yanya can wear many hats extremely well when it comes to genres. Before the full album release, the four singles have been exceptionally varied and perfectly showcase this. Last year’s single ‘stabilised’ is a fast-paced, drum and bass rhythmed track with guitars that echo Bauhaus or Le Tigre in parts. Similar tones can be seen again in the album track ‘L/R’, just more slow, dark, and unreservedly cool. The track adds a new layer as it also incorporates the saz, a staple instrument in Turkish folk, homage to her heritage and family, an instrument her father played to her growing up. Also, a very prominent element of ‘trouble’.
90s alternative rock bands have been a staple influence for Yanya, and from the get-go, ‘midnight sun’ is very hard to not hear the impact of Radiohead on her work. It’s a graceful four-minute, eleven seconds of varying guitar arrangements and distortion. While giving us vulnerable, honest lyrics that invite you to sing along with in one moment and spare a secret tear in another.
When you might have attempted to pin the genre style, you can find tracks laced with the sweet soft ambience of an early naughties pop song and brass linking nicely with the music of Miss Universe. Namely ‘belong with you’ and ‘shameless’, which is the song to bore the album’s name. Lyrically crushing with its relatable elements of losing yourself to others to prevent upset in relationships – “you can hurt me if you feel like”, the high thresholds a human can withstand to prevent inflicting pain. “until you fall it’s painless” – Yanya herself puts it far better than I, “It’s not that everything is painless, it’s that pain is not a bad thing.” And this is the core theme for the album as a whole.
Nilüfer Yanya’s guitar work has always had a reminiscence of The Durutti Column to me, and ‘another life’ is one of the strongest examples on ‘PAINLESS’, while the lyrics manage to open old wounds of heartbreak and missing someone. Under the feelings of embarrassment, and heartbreak, having something so perfectly relatable to the sorrow, desperation, and pain is a small but beautiful pain.
Perhaps it is my Irish upbringing, but I find it very hard to allow a record to hit on my own pains and heartbreaks. That is a lie, but it does take an outrageous amount of evoked feelings to admit it. These songs and their lyrics are so raw, heartbreaking, and elegant the very least the listener can do is meet Yanya with the same openness. And after all, it’s rare you are compensated for your emotional pains but appreciating the full depth of PAINLESS is a bittersweet, beautiful token. The album is wrapped in vocals and harmonies that are essentially audible salted caramel and an exhilarating variation of styles, so don’t be intimated. Dive in. After all, it seems I’m unfamiliarly glass half full now (or a little while at least).